A lot of ink has been printed about the Pappas brothers over the years. From endless profiles in skate mags as Tas and his younger sibling Ben climbed from suburban Australian skate rats to dethroning reigning champ Tony Hawk in 1996 and becoming the number one and two vert skaters in the world respectively. To the extensive coverage of Ben’s fall from grace in ’99 when he was caught smuggling cocaine into Australia, and Tas’ own trials and tribulations that saw him incarcerated in the USA. Then in 2007 the ultimate tragedy occurred when Ben took the life of his partner and then himself – all relentlessly covered by the media.
Finally, as Tas found his life rapidly spiralling out of control he was apprehended entering Sydney airport with a large quantity of cocaine, in circumstances eerily similar to his brother’s own arrest nearly a decade previously, and sentenced to prison in 2008. Tas was left crushed. Emotionally, spiritually, and physically decimated by the series of tragedies that have afflicted his family for the better part of the past two decades. While serving his sentence he found comfort in the bible and turned his sights to his future. A new film ‘All This Mayhem’, directed by childhood friend Eddie Martin endeavours to look behind the headlines and leering tabloids and give an honest insight into Tas’ life. From the heights of his career as one of the most innovative vert skaters in the world, to the depths of his personal lows, to his return to the board that has seen him conquer the illusive 900 (the first Australian to do so) and reclaim his spot among the greats in the sport.
First up, congratulations on landing the 900 in April, how did that feel?
Amazing! [laughs] Especially after everything, you know.
Was it a weight off your back?
Yeah, big time.
How many years were you trying?
I just stopped trying, for ages. Then when I’d just got out of jail [Tas’ partner] Helen said, “You have to do the Nine, I want that for Christmas.” Two and a half years later I got it.
Were you disappointed that that didn’t make it into the film?
Not really, everyone knows I did it. It worked out for the best to be honest, ‘cos it doesn’t look like I was just trying to prove a point. It’s a personal thing. Plus I did the trick that’s at the end of the doco, the mayhem, that’s a 180 flip – indie 540. The board does a 720 while you’re doing a 540, with a kick flip in it, and no one has ever done that. That was the first one, someone did it a couple of months after and even then Tony [Hawk] was funny about that. He couldn’t admit that I’d done it, I heard him on the X-Games like, “Oh that’s the first time I’ve seen that,” and [mine] has been all over the net for three months.
I remember watching the ‘99 X-Games when Hawk landed the 900, it’s such a pivotal moment in the film [Pappas was informed just before the best trick comp that he would not be allowed to enter]. Do you think things would have been different if you could have skated that day?
I’m not going to claim anything man. I respect him 100% as a skater – I give him the credit, he did it. But the way he goes about things I thought was weak, a bit weasely. The thing that happened, just out of nowhere I’m not allowed in a hard trick comp? You can even hear Chris Miller during the comp saying, “Man I wanna see the Nine.” They all knew that I was trying it, but then I wasn’t allowed in.
There are probably a lot of people that assume they know things about you and your family just based on media portrayal, was this film a way to set the record straight?
Of course, I wanted to shed some light on my brother because Ben in his right mind would never have done that. It was drugs and pharmaceuticals that tipped him over the edge. Lynette [Ben’s partner ] too, they were both drug addicts trying to come good. Him being on ice, meth, xanax, numerous different antidepressants – this cocktail of different drugs, he ended up making that stupid mistake. It just sucks, the whole situation. Poor Ben, poor Lynette. I just want people to know that wasn’t my brother.
How does it feel to put so much of your personal life on display now?
I don’t know. The main reason is my kids in America [Tas lost contact with his two children from his first marriage when he was deported from the USA for violating parole.] I want them to see that I didn’t stop loving them, I just got cut off, and I had my issues I had to deal with.
You haven’t had any contact with them?
Not at all, I’ve been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. It explains a lot of my behaviours, and I didn’t even know I had it – I was just masking it with drugs for years. Now finally I’m on a low dose of an anti-psychotic and an anti-depressant and it gets me to a place where I can actually sit back and think before reacting. Before it was all completely reactionary and mass rage and violence – plus the speed psychosis, I completely fried my mind on the drugs.
Was that around the same time when you injured your back and couldn’t compete?
Well I had this mental illness since I was as a kid, I was talking to my doctors and they said it is [related to] childhood trauma, and what we saw. [Growing up there was] a lot of fighting, and my babysitter used to bash me ‘cos I used to wet the bed. That bitch used to grab me by the hair and drag me under the bed, and my parents didn’t know. Then some friend of my auntie on my mother’s side sexually abused me. When I grew up, they reckon I just had zero trust in anyone ‘cos of all the shit that happened to me. If you keep getting hammered when you’re young the moment you feel any kind of threat in any kind of way; emotional or physical, you just want to lash out first. You want to get them before they get you. I didn’t know this about myself, I just though “Fuck the world they’re all out to get me,” and I was completely wrong.
Do you think putting out this film has given you a sense of peace?
Well I wanted to let the world know how good God was to me. I mean I did some pretty bad things and the mercy that’s been shown to me… I’m just humbled. I can’t believe it.
Was it important that Eddie Martin did the film as well?
Yeah, of course.
How long have you know him?
Since I was as a kid, he moved to Melbourne when we were like 14 and we used to skate together. Then our lives went down separate paths, and bang I’m at rock bottom in prison and it turns out Eddie is a doco maker. It’s like, thank you God.
It feels like he brings a real honesty and understanding of the situation as well, it doesn’t seem dramatised at all.
Yeah, there’s no sensationalised bullshit!
After everything that’s happened, how do you feel about the skate industry? Is it a world you still want to be involved in?
Oh I still want to be a pro skater, don’t get me wrong. I don’t know how ESPN or Hawk is going to handle this doco but it’s all true, what went down. We had ESPN by the balls one contest, I mean [skating is] the only sport right where the broadcasters own it. NBA has the NBA body and they negotiate the broadcasting rights to whoever that deal is, and then they look after their sportsmen. Once you make the NBA they’re automatically on a ridiculous amount of money, so they can really go on with being a pro athlete. Our sport, ESPN keeps like 99.99% of the money, and then you just take their scraps. And if you piss anyone off, they can kick you out.
We had it lined up, we were gonna call it the Pro Rider’s Organisation and we were going to boycott on the day unless they bloody negotiated with our terms and we would take control of our own sport. Every sport has had to do this, but Hawk’s camp, Bucky [Lasek], Bob [Burnquist], and all that, they faltered. Then ESPN have come back and are like, “We’ve got four of the best guys who are willing to skate and you either skate or were gonna fly in some shit guys and let them fall, and we’ll just cut straight to a final.” From that point on, they owned it. What are we going to do? I thought it skaters would at least stick together and look out for the common interest of each other, but no. I just found it disgusting then, it just made me hate it
So I read that your son [with partner Helen] is pretty handy on the board now too?
Yeah, he loves it.
Would you encourage him to follow your path into skateboarding?
Oh if I could go to America. Hopefully I can get back in there and do talks with youths and go to kids in detention centres or juvenile hall, I’d like to screen the doco and do talks with them. I’d like to help young crew, and then do a couple of comps again. [laughs] But as I said man, [the film] is definitely going to ruffle some feathers. Vert separated itself from the skate industry by doing the ESPN thing, Tony just turned it into this bloody freak show.
I remember when I lost interest in that scene was when they released OP King Of Skate in 2002 as a pay-per-view event. I think Hawk does a kickflip K-grind across a rail that’s on fire between two vert ramps? It felt like it had turned into stunt riding.
I mean I don’t mind craziest tricks, but don’t add fire. I don’t mind big corporations trying to come in, but what I do mind is when they start trying to control it and dictating to us how to do it. If you don’t fit their mould, they can fuck you off. They’re not even skaters mate, they didn’t put the blood, sweat, and tears in. They didn’t find solace in skateboarding at the ramp when they were younger because they come from a shitty background, which is the majority of skateboarders.
What do you want people to take from the film?
I want my kids to find me, and I want families to know there is a way out. I went to AA, and AA said “Ask God, God is understanding.” I was just like, what am I doing here? Every time I was in AA, everyone would just talk about that last wicked bender that they went on. After the first [few] times I was in AA, I was just straight to the coke dealer [laughs]. Then I’m straight back on one. I can’t talk about it too much, because I’ve got a weakness. So I just went straight to the source, read the bible, prayed on some prayers. Said “Prove it, if you’re real,” like if it’s just words in a book I’m just gonna party, but if these prayers work… And man shit started to happen, spooky shit, and there’s really no turning back. I’ve had a couple of slip-ups here and there, but I’m only human. It’s only been five years since I got locked up – and before that I would just do what I want, when I want. I’m a work in progress.
‘All This Mayhem’ is in Cinemas July 10 – exclusive to Cinema Nova Melbourne and Dendy Newtown Sydney. DVD/Digital release September.